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Whether you consider yourself an avid investor or a beginner just starting to look into the stock market, it's easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stock trading options. Although some people still use traditional stock brokers, many people have found they can save a lot of money by trading stocks themselves.
Besides significant cost savings, another great advantage to executing your own transactions is that you can avoid the time and energy necessary to deal with "professional" stock brokers. Many of these individuals try to convince you to buy or sell stocks, because they earn a commission every time you make a transaction. With online stock brokers, you never have to talk to any salesmen.
Wednesday, August 4th
TD Ameritrade is the name to trust when it comes to affordable, easy-to-understand online stock trading. With a 40 year history, 11 million funded client accounts, and $1.2 trillion in total client assets, this online stock broker clearly has the expertise to help investors at all levels to make the transactions they want.
They start with one of the most straightforward pricing structures on the market:
All of these fees are plainly listed upfront. You'll find no hidden spurprises or nick-and-dime charges here.
This online stock broker offers three platforms for interacting with their services:
Not sure which platform is right for you? You can get complimentary assistance from one of TD Ameritrade's platform specialists, through their toll-free number, who can help you get started. Each platform can be used free of charge. And, all of this brokers' assistance is available 24/7 by email; during regular business hours, you can also use their toll-free number and/or visit one of their 360+ branches nationwide.
With TD Ameritrade you also gain access to independent 3rd party research from Morningstar, TheStreet, and CFRA. For those who like to keep a constant eye on the market, you'll enjoy streaming news and quotes.
TD Ameritrade is the top online stock broker available today - but don't just take our word for it. In 2018, they were recognized as Kiplinger's best online broker, and Barron's as the first-place winner in multiple categories: Long-Term Investing, Usability, Novices, Option Traders (8 consecutive years), Investor Education (2 consecutive years), and five other areas. You'll find similar accolades regarding customer experience when looking at a study done by Investor's Business Daily.
If you're looking for the industry's most accessible trading platform, affordable flat-fee pricing, and a wealth of knowledge and assistance, look no further than TD Ameritrade. They offer the highest value for your stock trading dollar and have earned our highest ranking among online stock brokers.
Since 1985, Firstrade has been a leading brokerage firm offering a complete line of investment tools and products for every level of investor. This stock broker was one of the very first to get online, and they've received plenty of industry awards - Forbes, Smart Money, and Barron's have frequently named Firstrade among their top choices for online brokers, especially when it comes to commissions and fees.
You'll soon see why: Firstrade doesn't require any minimum deposits, and in August 2018 the firm eliminated all commissions for stocks, ETFs, options, and mutual funds. That's right: you won't pay anything in fees for most transactions completed through the broker's online platform. Ever.
That means that you can trade using your dashboard, online or via mobile app, at no cost other than the price of the stocks themselves. Some of the newest features added to the Firstrade app at the time of our review were advanced charts, equity ratings, and an improved trading/research interface.
You'll also have access to a wealth of information once you open an account. Click on the Research & Tools heading to see what you can expect from Firstrade, including video commentary from trusted independent analysts, Market Heatmap, Morningstar ratings and research reports, and much more.
The only drawback to using Firstrade that we could find is the lack of advisor help, either automatic or with an investment professional. Most online stock brokers offer at last one, if not both. In other words, if you need some hand-holding while buying and selling stocks and strategizing your approach, Firstrade might not be your top pick. Otherwise, if you're comfortable doing the research using the educational resources this stock broker does offer online, you'll probably be very pleased with your experience.
Firstrade jumped almost to the top of the industry when it announced their fee-free trading structure, making them an excellent choice for most investors looking for an affordable online stock broker.
Named as the Best Online Broker by Investor's Business Daily in 2016-2018, Fidelity has the kind of longevity that many competitors can only hope to achieve. Created in Boston in 1946, this full-service brokerage traditionally comes in as the fourth-largest asset manager in the US, with assets under management of approximately $2.4 trillion.
You've got 3 general options when using Fidelity as your online stock broker: self-directed investing at $4.95 per trade (free for mutual funds), digital management with Fidelity Go at a fee of 0.35%/year, or full-service wealth management that requires a minimum investment of $250,000.
Fidelity has an intuitive, attractive suite of tools to help you plan, manage, and understand your investments. Their Stock Screener lets you use your desktop or mobile device to quickly find investments that are a good fit for the criteria you select; you can also get pre-determined stocks that have been screened by third-party experts. The Stock Research Dashboard gives you the ability to discover and validate possible opportunities with helpful research results and data visualization tools, including social trends, charts, and much more.
Their customer service team is also available 24/7 - very helpful for investors who have a question before making a late-night stock trade or who can only devote time to their investment strategy on the weekends.
Another useful perk offered by Fidelity is the Full View feature. You can enter all of your financial information, whether it's a Fidelity account or held at another institution and see all of your online accounts in one place. The Full View capability allows you to track spending, create budgets, and see your transactions in a monthly display.
In fact, the only complaint we could find about Fidelity as an online stock broker was about their Active Trader Pro platform. Clients who participate in the stock market as active traders have said that the Fidelity platform doesn't have the breadth of functions that many competitor brokers offer. But, that won't apply to the large majority of investors, who are looking for an affordable, trustworthy way to manage their stock purchases and other investments.
When it comes to that - affordability, reputation, and helpful customer service - Fidelity is absolutely an online stock broker that measures up.
Charles Schwab is a full-service online stock broker, founded in 1971 and currently managing more than $2.6 trillion in investments for over nine million investors. Because Schwab also has 300+ brick-and-mortar locations, investors have more access to face-to-face advisors if they so choose.
You'll have a hard time finding another brokerage that is more accessible: Schwab offers round-the-clock customer service, every day of the year. Better yet, if you're looking for some basic investment help, you can get in touch with one of their representatives at no cost. On the other hand, if you want more personalized assistance, you can choose Schwab's Intelligent Portfolios or Managed Portfolios.
Schwab's online tools and platforms include the usual panorama of web/mobile trading and trading software, depending on your preference. If you use the software, StreetSmart Edge, you'll be able to customize your platform according to the criteria you need, including streaming real-time data and potential trade ideas. Customer feedback indicates that Schwab is a fantastic choice for almost every type of investor, but active traders will probably find more robust options with one of the other online stock brokers in our review that specialize in that approach to buying and selling stocks.
Schwab's trading fees are average, at $4.95 per trade. Their required minimum investment of $1000 is more than many of their competitors.
On a positive note, Schwab is one of the only online stock brokers we found to offer a Satisfaction Guarantee. If, for some reason you're not 100% satisfied with their services, they will refund your fees/commissions and work with you to fix it.
Charles Schwab is an extremely reputable online stock broker and is an ideal fit for investors who want a one-stop shop for practically every investment type and service - though you might find lower investment minimums and per-trade fees with the competition.
If you like the idea of having an online stock broker who was responsible for executing the very first individual investor electronic trade over 30 years ago, E*TRADE is that company.
At the time of our review, E*TRADE offered up to 500 commission-free trades and up to $2500 in cash credit to investor accounts. In order to qualify, you had to deposit or transfer at least $10,000, with the highest rewards offered for accounts of $1 million or more. Or, if you prefer to start small, you can make the minimum investment of $500 and get stock trades at $6.95 (fewer than 30/quarter) or $4.95 (30+ per quarter).
E*TRADE has all three types of stock trading available: self-directed, assistance from financial consultants, or professional portfolio management. Customers report receiving excellent customer service with all 3.
Clients also have positive things to say about E*TRADE 's trading platform. You should have an easy time using the OptionsHouse platform, either on your browser or tablet, to research and trade stocks/options/ETFs/futures. This platform is geared towards active traders, however, so you may find yourself more comfortable with their basic web platform if you're looking for information and tools focused on less-frequent stock trading.
Although E*TRADE has name-brand recognition from its long-standing history as an online stock broker, in some ways they've been passed by the competition within the basic investor/consumer marketplace. When compared with online brokers that charge low or no fees per stock trade, and/or who require no minimum investment, E*TRADE comes up a little short. But, for overall trustworthiness and solid tools for investors, especially active traders, they're still a strong contender.
Merrill Edge is the investment division of well-known Bank of America. Because of this relationship, they're an ideal choice if you're already banking with BoA: you can get increased rewards, the simplicity of transferring funds between accounts with a single login, and manage both your investments and your banking through the mobile app.
This online stock brokerage has received many awards, including J.D. Power's "Outstanding Customer Service Experience" recognition for 7 consecutive years and Kiplinger's #1 spot among online brokers in 2017.
In general, expect to pay $6.95 per stock trade when using the Merrill Edge self-directed investment platform, along with fees of $0.01 to $0.03 per $1000 of principal when you sell.
You can also get up to 100 free stock trades per month through the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program. At the time of our review, the eligibility requirement was a minimum average combined balance of $50,000 in BoA qualifying accounts (e.g. investment/deposit) to get 30 $0 trades per month, and $100,000 to get up to 100 $0 trades each month. Compared with other online stock brokers that offer free trades with no such requirements, Merrill Edge will definitely tie up a lot of your money in order to qualify for their "rewards".
If you prefer professional portfolio management, either through an online investment advisory program or by working directly with a Merrill Edge Financial Solutions advisor, you can access those services for an additional fee of 0.45% and 0.85%, respectively; minimum investment amounts of $5000 and $20,000 apply.
Merrill Edge's online platform has a number of useful tools that are visually appealing and easy to understand. For example, you can see how your portfolio ranks in terms of a company's environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices. You can also take advantage of analyst reports on specific holdings, along with recommendations as to buy/sell/hold on individual stocks in your portfolio.
The only negative we found when evaluating Merrill Edge as an online stock broker was with respect to customer service. Some clients complained that the service they received was not as good as they had expected, especially given the brokerage's reputation as an award-winning company. Also, we found some comments describing slower-than-average updates when trades are made.
Overall, Merrill Edge is a trustworthy online stock broker - but unless you're a Bank of America customer for other products, you may find more appealing options with one of the higher-ranked services in our review.
TradeStation is headquartered in Florida and has been in business since 1982, which makes it one of the online stock brokers with the longest history. The service focuses on active trading, with apps and other tools designed for traders - by traders.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of TradeStation is the level of trading technology made available. Often only found in the offices and on the computers of stock brokers and professional investors, the platform offers real-time search and tracking, which can be tailored to the needs of the individual investor - to get the jump on hot opportunities before the rest of the market takes notice.
Another handy tool is the TradeStation Simulator. We appreciate online stock brokers that give clients the ability to try out their investing strategies beforehand, with no risk. Especially for people who are new to real-time stock trading, this tool makes it possible to lose everything - without actually risking a penny.
Individual stock trades are priced at $5, with additional options for those who trade in bulk.
It's obvious who TradeStation is geared towards when you look at the awards they've gotten from Barron's: #2 in their Best for Frequent Traders and Best for International Traders lists, and #5 in Best for Options Traders. If none of those three categories applies to you - in other words, you're just an average investor who wants to invest in stocks every so often - you'll probably find a more comfortable experience with one of the other online stock brokers in our review, particularly those that don't focus solely on active trading.
SpeedTrader is a division of Mint Global Markets, Inc. and has been serving active day traders since 1999. They give their traders direct market access, allowing for better fills and faster executions through 25+ routing options.
SpeedTrader focuses on two-day trading platforms: Pro and Elite. We strongly recommend that you take advantage of their free platform demo before making your decision. You can also use ActiveWeb and Mobile Trading; those demos are also available under the Platforms tab. Expect monthly fees ranging from $25 to $120 month, depending on which platform you choose; these fees are often waived for clients who generate at least $199 in monthly commissions.
When buying or selling, pricing choices include per-trade, per-share, and per-contract for options.
We also really like that SpeedTrader offers a free, virtual practice account. You'll have to email or call them to set it up, but once you've been given the green light you can download their online trading software and use your "virtual buying power" to make sure you understand how both their platform and active trading work.
What SpeedTrader does - active day trading - it does very well, with numerous options for platforms and pricing. However, for the average investor looking to manage a retirement account or invest in the market for personal reasons, SpeedTrader will not be an appropriate choice.
Robinhood is one of the newest stock brokers in the online market, founded in 2013 and actively serving over 5 million clients since 2015. Their fee-free trading platform "lets you learn to invest in the stock market for free", primarily through their mobile-based application. For those of us who are more comfortable using our tablets or laptops, Robinhood recently released their web version as well.
As you start using Robinhood, particularly through the app, you'll need to get familiar with how they approach buying and selling stocks. For example, you'll have a Detail page that will give you information about your investments, help you track your returns, and overall statistics about the stocks you've purchased or added to your Watchlist. You'll also find Cards, that tell you about market updates, account updates and new features, and news updates with relevant articles and breaking stories within the financial markets.
Robinhood doesn't offer as much as more established online stock brokers when it comes to research. Because this platform is geared towards Millennials, it's expected that you'll know how to find the information you need through any one of the many free services available online. Once you've navigated to the stock's detail page on the Robinhood app, tap the Trade button to buy or sell.
For more active traders, Robinhood Gold may be an appealing add-on. This upgrade gives you a margin account, with the ability to buy and sell stocks on credit. The Gold membership requires a minimum balance of $2000. With this tier of service, you also get access to the market 30 minutes before it opens and 2 hours after it closes. Monthly Gold membership starts at $6, ranging up to $50/month for people who want access to $10,000 in interest-free credit.
Robinhood is also the only online stock broker we found to offer the ability to invest in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. You'll need to check out whether Robinhood Crypto is available in your state; at the time of our review, only residents of 19 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin) were eligible.
On the other hand, Robinhood has one of the most limited account profiles of any online stock broker we reviewed: they only offer basic, taxable investment accounts. No IRAs, no joint accounts, etc. In other words, if you're looking to invest for retirement purposes and you want the tax benefits offered by a Roth IRA or a self-directed 401(k), you're out of luck with Robinhood.
How does this online stock broker measure up when it comes to customer service? Client comments are mixed. For investors who are just looking for a basic, no-fee way to buy and sell stocks, and who are pretty comfortable with doing their own research and using an app to make their investments, Robinhood is a good fit. But, for anyone who may want the option of having a professionally-managed portfolio - or even an "robo-advisor" that can take an investor's basic information and desired outcomes and generate an investment strategy - Robinhood isn't going to be able to compete with stock brokerages that have been around for much longer.
Bottom line? Robinhood is an easy way to get started with investing in the stock market, with no fees for buying or selling stocks and no minimum deposit required. If you're comfortable with mobile apps and with doing your own basic research about which stocks to buy and when, you might want to give them a try. However, if you're at all unsure about investing and think you might want some hand-holding or advice, you'll probably want to consider an online stock brokers with a longer history.
SogoTrade has been serving investors since 1986, aiming to provide the best value for your investment dollars. They tell you upfront that they serve "independent, self-directed" investors - in other words, you'll need to use their educational/research tools to make the most informed decisions about your stock trades. A separate service, Sogo MarketRiders, is available if you prefer more personalized guidance from your online stock broker.
SogoTrade is, at its heart, a discount online stock broker. Although they have tools for the average investor, their best fit is probably for active traders - definitely not those who want to put their money in the market and forget about it.
The SogoTrade platform reflects that "bargain brokerage" mentality: no fancy graphics, no cutting-edge tech, just spreadsheets, tickers, and so on.
You'll also see that in their pricing. While they advertise a low $2.88/trade, you'll need to be making at least 150 trades each quarter to get that price. Otherwise, expect to pay a base rate of $4.88/trade. SogoTrade also offers "prepaid trades" in quantities of 20 or 50, which can bring your rate down to that same $2.88 price without the 150+ trades requirement.
SogoTrade used to be the lowest-priced online stock broker on the market, but as the industry has changed and many brokerages are offering lower-cost (and even no-cost) trades, SogoTrade seems to leave investors with the lower-quality platform without delivering any added value in exchange. We recommend you choose another online stock broker in our review
And, of course, with fluctuations in the economy, and subsequent rises and falls in stock prices, some people panic and pull out significant investments - leaving the door wide open for others to take advantage of big opportunities to buy low and hopefully sell high later.
Of course, the best online stock brokers do have the option to work with a consultant if you choose. Especially if you're just starting to learn about investments, you may feel more comfortable knowing you can access an expert if the need arises. These services may be included, or you may have to pay for them a la carte.
So, when choosing the right online stock broker for your needs, how do you know which one is best? Before you jump in and start buying up your shares in Apple or Coca-Cola, here are some factors to keep in mind:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best online stock brokers available today. We hope this information helps you choose the right broker for your stock buying and trading needs!
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